Jim Douglass (Gregory Peck) has been relentlessly pursuing the four outlaws who murdered his wife, but finds them in jail about to be hanged. While he waits to witness their execution, they escape; and the townspeople enlist Douglas' aid to recapture them.Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
Peck at his best in good Western that raises moral questions
This is an interesting Western which, as is often the case in this genre, is a tale of revenge. This time, however, there are a few ironical twists. Under the solid hand of director Henry King, this film takes further the point made in OXBOW INCIDENT in 1943, about lynching.
In this case, you have the main character, Jim Douglas (Peck) seeking revenge for the rape and brutal murder of his wife. Peck, in one of his finest performances, portrays a generally balanced and good man driven somewhat over the edge by a desire for revenge. The four "baddies" are all played with considerable zest by Stephen Boyd, Henry Silva, Lee van Cleef and Salmi. The weakest part of the film is Joan Collins. Tough for me to understand why and how she got this role.
Silva, portraying an Indian, correctly identifies Douglas as a hunter. It is Douglas' sad failing that he gets the wrong culprits, and even more so that he thought the real rapist and murderer a good man, who would not hurt anyone.
Douglas ends the film with a tormented conscience for killing three men who were innocent of his charges, but he receives great applause from the local community, grateful to see the town rid of a gang of thieves. The irony of the situation is put across without any moralizing, which adds to the film's virtues.
There are a few unnecessary touches along the way, such as Boyd raping an abductee, but by and large it is a tightly told story, helped by very good cinematography.
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